Between travelers and traders forced to negotiate with corrupt officials, peddlers of all kinds and motorcycle taxis jostling to pass on the other side, the border between Benin and southwestern Nigeria is known to be a nightmare.
But the inauguration of a brand new crossing point on the dented road linking the two countries could facilitate the movement of goods and people within the Economic Community of West African States ( ECOWAS ).
The 17-hectare site, built for some 18.3 million euros, is equipped with state-of-the-art scanners to detect illicit goods. And customs and immigration officers now have real offices, while they huddled up in makeshift huts or converted containers.
According to the president of the ECOWAS Commission , Jean-Claude Kassi-Brou, the new position will not only boost trade, but also help fight against fraud, trafficking and corruption of all kinds.
The European Union (EU) is financing 64 million euros for ECOWAS to create seven similar infrastructures on the route from Nigeria to Côte d’Ivoire, between Ghana and Burkina Faso, and between Guinea and the Caribbean. Mali.
“Better movement of people, goods and services (…) means creating jobs, opportunities for development and opportunities,” says Karlsen, EU Ambassador to Nigeria and ECOWAS .
At first sight, the idea of fostering formal trade seems to be common sense, especially at Seme-Kraké, one of Africa’s busiest border crossings.
About 70 per cent of subregional trade flows through the 900-kilometer road along the Atlantic coast from Lagos to Abidjan.
Nigeria – like Benin, whose economy depends heavily on its English-speaking neighbor – is also in dire need of stimulating sluggish economic growth, with about 87 million people living in extreme poverty out of 190 million.
For Nigerian economist Nonso Obikili, the Seme-Kraké post will have to demonstrate that doing paperwork at the crossing of a land border can be as effective as entering a seaport.
Some observers, however, question the usefulness of such an investment in the ECOWAS area , which has long enjoyed free movement between the 15 countries, and where travelers often prefer informal routes.
A survey by the National Institute of Statistics (Insae) in 2011 in Benin identified 171 border crossing points with neighboring Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Second-hand cars, fuel and agri-food products, which are the subject of intense illegal trade, generally travel through the bush to escape the import restrictions and exorbitant tariffs put in place by a highly protectionist Nigeria.
Motorcycles loaded with Asian rice bags and cars with dangerously drooped rear suspensions are common on roads in border areas.
“In terms of smuggling, I do not think it makes a big difference,” said Nonso Obikili. “The traffickers do not really use the border at the level of Seme, which is very monitored.”
The road of international disgrace
In the run-up to the general elections scheduled for early 2019, the Nigerian government is praising the major infrastructure projects (roads, railways, airports) completed over the past three years.
The 70 km separating the Beninese border from Lagos are not part of it, and, with the countless potholes scattered on this axis nicknamed “the international disgrace”, it takes more than half a day to arrive at its destination. .
Trucks, cars and motorcycles snake at a snail speed to avoid holes filled with mud, but also garbage dumps and construction debris abandoned in the middle of the lane.
Foreign Minister Geoffrey Onyeama, who went to the border crossing by car, told the press that the state of the road was “totally unacceptable”.
“You can not talk about free movement of people and goods without the necessary infrastructure to facilitate it,” he said.
It may not be a coincidence that ministers approved Wednesday the release of 63 billion nairas (153 million euros) to rehabilitate the road.
But financing is not synonymous with guarantees in Nigeria, where corruption gangrene often infrastructure works, with projects initiated by a politician who are not always pursued by his successors.